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Timm v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

April 24, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This action seeks judicial review of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (“the Commissioner”) decision denying Plaintiff Dennis Timm's application for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff had severe impairments of degenerative disc disease, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and peripheral vascular disease, but retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to work as a routing clerk, marker, and photocopy machine operator.

         After carefully reviewing the record and the parties' arguments, the Court finds the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and so is AFFIRMED.

         Procedural and Factual Background

          The complete facts and arguments are presented in the parties' briefs and are repeated here only to the extent necessary.

         Plaintiff filed his application for benefits on June 22, 2016, alleging a disability onset date of December 8, 2013. The Commissioner denied the application at the initial claim level, and Plaintiff appealed the denial to an ALJ. The ALJ held a hearing and, on August 24, 2017, issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 3, 2018. Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

         Standard of Review

          A federal court's review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Chaney v. Colvin, 812 F.3d 672, 676 (8th Cir. 2016). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but is enough evidence that a reasonable mind would find it sufficient to support the Commissioner's decision. Id. In making this assessment, the court considers evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision, as well as evidence that supports it. Id. The court must “defer heavily” to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Wright v. Colvin, 789 F.3d 847, 852 (8th Cir. 2015). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice; a decision is not outside this zone simply because the evidence also points to an alternate outcome. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011).


         The Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process[1] to determine whether a claimant is disabled, that is, unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred at Step Five in applying the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, or “grids, ” to his case and finding he was capable of performing other work. Plaintiff argues that despite acknowledging that he could apply a higher age category of the grids to Plaintiff's case- which would have resulted in a finding of disability-the ALJ declined to do so, and the reasons she gave for not doing so were not supported by substantial evidence.

         This argument is unavailing.

         In deciding whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner considers the claimant's age in conjunction with his RFC, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(a). When, as in this case, the ALJ finds that a claimant is unable to perform his past relevant work because of his impairments, the burden shifts at Step Five to the Commissioner to show that there are other jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform despite the limitations in his RFC. Phillips v. Astrue, 671 F.3d 699, 702 (8th Cir. 2012). To satisfy this burden, the ALJ may rely on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, or “grids, ” contained in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appx. 2. Pearsall v. Massanari, 274 F.3d 1211, 1219 (8th Cir. 2001).

         The grids “are a set of charts listing certain vocational profiles that warrant a finding of disability or non-disability.” McCoy v. Astrue, 648 F.3d 605, 613 (8th Cir. 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appx. 2). The grids consider the claimant's age, education, and work experience. They contain three age categories: a “younger person” (under age 50), a “person closely approaching advanced age” (ages 50-54), and a “person of advanced age” (age 55 or older). 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c)-(e). The regulations do not apply the grids' “age categories mechanically in a borderline situation.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(b). If a claimant is within a few days to a few months of reaching an older age category-a “borderline” age situation-and using the older age category would ...

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